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Weekly Report: Zimababwe

Zimbabwe: Assault and sexual violence by militia
Latest Press Releases
AI Index: AFR 46/032/2002
Publish date: 05/04/2002

State-sponsored militia are continuing to carry out assaults and acts
of sexual violence in reprisals against the opposition. Militias are also
controlling the distribution of food supplies in rural areas and it is
feared that this is systematically being used as a tool of repression
against opposition supporters.

"We are alarmed at reports that reprisal attacks and abductions by
militia members are continuing in rural communities of Zimbabwe
suspected of voting for the opposition in the recent presidential
elections," Amnesty International said.

Using the published lists of names and addresses of those who acted
as polling agents for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
militia have attacked, abducted and destroyed the homes of these
middle-ranking opposition officials. In the rural area outside Gokwe,
for example, six homes of polling agents were burnt down. During
this past weekend a crowd of 50 militia members in the Bulawayo
suburb of Sizinda beat residents in two homes, robbed them of
money and destroyed valuables such as televisions and refrigerators.
When the outraged community tried to evict the militia from their
town hall, police tear-gassed them and arrested 42 people on charges
of trying to destroy the building.

"Eyewitnesses report that police officers told the residents that the
militia were ‘untouchables’ and could not be removed nor
restrained," Amnesty International said. "The Zimbabwe government
has an absolute obligation, in accordance with international human
rights standards, to protect all its citizens from human rights
violations. Instead, the government’s condoning of militia violence
serves a political purpose: destroying an opposition party and taking
revenge on Zimbabweans who may still support the MDC."

Amnesty International is particularly concerned at mounting reports
of rape and sexual torture by the militia, continuing the pattern seen
in the run up to the 9 – 11 March 2002 presidential elections. During
its recent visit to Zimbabwe in March, Amnesty International
interviewed women in the towns of Kwekwe and Chinhoyi who
described rape and sexual abuse by militia members.

In January 2002, a respected Zimbabwean human rights
organization, the Amani Trust, had reported a new pattern of sexual
violence after interviewing victims who were forced to rape other
victims — at the instigation of the militia — in Mashonaland Central
Province. By the end of March 2002, the Amani Trust documented
further sexual assaults by militia, including incidents in which men
were forced by militia to commit sexual assault on one another. In
the town of Gokwe in Midlands province, the Amani Trust reported
that militia members and army soldiers continued to rape women and
teenage girls or forced them to perform humiliating sexual acts in
public, in revenge for the "crime" of living in a community perceived
to support the opposition.

Another human rights organization, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’
Association, estimates that some 1,000 women are being held in
militia camps. In Masvingo, newspaper accounts describe farm
workers being beaten and forced to watch their wives raped by
militia because they may have voted for the opposition.

Amnesty International estimates that dozens — perhaps scores of
people — are being held in illegal detention in some 50 militia camps
around the country. While many are held for "re-education", some
are beaten and reportedly tortured. In the recent case of Ephraim
and Faith Tapa, a High Court judge successfully forced the police to
rescue the couple who had been abducted in Marondera and held at
a militia camp for some 22 days. The High Court Judge issued the
court order on 8 March 2002 forcing Police Commissioner Augustine
Chihuri to intervene, but deliberately struck out of the draft order
submitted by Tapa’s lawyers the directive to police to rescue others
who were held in illegal detention by the militia.

The Zimbabwe authorities’ political retribution carried out by the
militia may become even more widely felt as the risk of famine in
Zimbabwe deepens. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s
(FAO) Global and Early Warning System predicted at the end of
2001 that more than 700,000 people were at risk of food shortages,
with another 250,000 urban dwellers already experiencing food

Amnesty International has already received evidence that ZANU –
PF officials in charge of distributing food supplies in many rural
areas are discriminating against those believed to be supporters of the
MDC. ZANU – PF affiliated youth militia stationed outside long
queues to buy grain are reported to be targeting MDC supporters for
assaults and intimidation to prevent them from getting food. In the
rural town of Mvurwi, for example, a man standing in line to buy
maize meal was beaten after being recognized as an opposition
activist by militia members who beat him.

Human rights lawyer Innocent Gonese confirmed this week that war
veteran-led militia control the Grain Marketing Board food
distribution facilities in the Matabeleland North Province. They
demand a ZANU-PF party card before allowing people to buy maize
meal. He confirmed similar acts of discrimination in the towns of
Masvingo and Gutu. Amnesty International has also received
individual reports confirming militia control of food distribution from
Kwekwe, Norton, Plumtree, Beitbridge,Victoria Falls, Chipinge,
Kariba and Tsholotsho, north of Bulawayo.


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